Sunday, May 8, 2022
Scripture: Philippians 2:3-16 (TIB)
There must be no competition among you, no conceit, but everybody is to be humble, value others over yourselves, each of you thinking of the interest of others before your own. Your attitude must be the same as Christ Jesus:
Christ, though in the image of God, didn't deem equality with God something to be clung to - but instead became completely empty and took on the image of oppressed humankind: born into the human condition, found in the likeness of a human being. Jesus was thus humbled - obediently accepting death, even death on the cross! Because of this God highly exalted Christ and gave to Jesus the name above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God: Jesus Christ reigns supreme!
Therefore, my friends, you who are always obedient to my urgings, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, not only when I happen to be with you, but all the more now that I am absent. It is God at work in you that creates the desire to do God's will.
In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach, in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation - among whom you will shine like stars in the sky, while holding fast to the word of life.
A Laugh for Today:
Brad referenced a scene from the movie, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in his message. Here is the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhiCFdWeQfA
- Brad compared the balancing of the four fundamental forces in nature to the "unbalanced" forces in the current international and societal situation which are leading to societal fracturing. Do you think are society is currently fracturing? If so, what do you think the causes are?
- In the message, Brad contends that the way to address societal fracturing is to follow Paul's teaching in Philippians: "“value others over yourselves, each of you thinking of the interest of others before your own.” Do you think this is the solution? If not, then what is?
- The southern African Philosophy of Unutu is highlighted in the message. (For a primer on this philosophy try reading "Hunhu/Ubuntu in the Traditional Thought of Southern Africa" in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Do you think philosophy could be adopted by our western culture? How do you think it might impact our society?
- The Christ hymn in Philippians 2 (Christ, though in the image of God, didn't deem equality with God something to be clung to - but instead became completely empty and took on the image of oppressed humankind: born into the human condition, found in the likeness of a human being.) highlights that God wants to be in community with us. Furthermore, it ties God’s desire for community to salvation. What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever thought of salvation as an act of community as opposed to an individual act?
- Brad states: “Therefore, we need to recalibrate from thinking of salvation as an individual act focused on life after death and recalibrate to thinking of it as the incarnation of community act that impacts life now.” Thoughts? If we do this how might it impact our society?
- Brad, like Paul, says what holds us back from this action is “fear and trembling” because finding salvation in and through community requires vulnerability. Do you agree? What steps can you take this week to becoming vulnerable and community-centric?
Sunday, May 1, 2022
A man approached him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”
The man said, “Which ones?”
Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
The young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?”
Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that it will be very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
When his disciples heard this, they were stunned. “Then who can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”
Then Peter replied, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What will we have?”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you who have followed me that, when everything is made new, when the Human One sits on his magnificent throne, you also will sit on twelve thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel. And all who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms because of my name will receive one hundred times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.
- This series is about recalibrating our expectations of what church is and needs to be at this moment in our culture. Can you think of ways the Church universal needs to change in order to connect with our culture? List some.
- In the scripture Jesus tells the young man to sell his possessions and give everything to the poor as a key to being a follower. The young man found this challenging because of his wealth and love of it. This limited his capacity to be a Christ-follower. What are things which limit you in your Christ-following?
- The disciples are "stunned" that someone like the young man, who seemingly has everything, isn't a lock for eternal life, and they wonder then who can achieve eternal life. Jesus replied that its humanly impossible but possible only through God. How do you feel about this - that it isn't what you do that earns you "credit" with God?
- Brad states that his "thesis for today is that we live in a moment that confronts us in a such a fashion that we must be people of the possible." Do you think that the Church universal in our culture has lost its belief that renewal and transformation are possible? if so, how do we get it back?
- Brad points out that in Jesus' discourse about the future for the disciples that inheriting eternal life is almost an afterthought. Jesus includes it as a last item after pointing out that eternal life includes being responsible for the faith (the "overseeing" identified in the scripture) and expecting to receive and live into relationship (receiving back a hundred fold). Brad points out that if we live these values today then we are already living in eternal life. how do you feel about this? What steps do you need to take to live into these values?
Sunday, April 24, 2022
John 20:19-23 (The Message)
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were awestruck. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
Tania says that living in this time that: “We expect and hope for the beauty and warmth of spring, but we get more days of random annoying winter. We are holding at arms length distance the work of grief that Covid brought us, collectively sputtering about this that, and the other that is not what we want it to be or how it was before. Our energy and focus have been held captive by the distracting squirrels of our lives leaving some of us in a brain fog from the chronic stress that we have experienced. On top of that, we are now trying to use those social muscles that have gone lax from two years of not being used. Awkwardly trying to figure out what it means to be in in-person relationships and in-person community with one another again.” Which one of these do you most resonate with and why?
Tania mentions destination addiction and defines it as: “The idea that any sort of happiness, contentment, or peace is anywhere BUT where we are at in this given moment of time. Destination addiction lures us into thinking that the future or the past is better than and more desirable than this time of life. Or, when we look at another friendship, school, marriage, family, church, workplace, with the eyes of what we don’t have in comparison, we have then been hooked on the bait that destination addiction offers.” In what places or spaces are you in right now that you see destination addiction being played out?
Tania says, “And, it is Good News for you and for me today that no matter what situation we are in, Jesus comes to stand right in the middle of that messy, dark, and locked up place and proclaims to you and me today, “Look, see me and see my wounds” there is no place that you can go that I have not gone already. Death, betrayal, oppression, continued systemic injustices, grief, addiction, dis-ease of any sort, harm by those in religious authority, a weary-fed up spirit, Jesus has been there and says to you and me today “Look see me and see my wounds and hear my words of peace. Not once but twice, Peace to you. Peace not as the world gives, but peace in the gift of the Holy Spirit with you.” Which one of those places that Tania mentions do you most resonate with, why?
Take a peek at this short video and article: How Aldersgate Changed Wesley (3-minute video) and The Holy Spirit as understood by the United Methodist Church (short article). What speaks to you the most about what you have read/seen?
Tania mentions that some folks squirm at the thought of the Holy Spirit and quotes Jack Levison who says, “When it comes to experiences of the Spirit, you kick out the crazies or you explain it away, or you pretend like it doesn’t exist.” Do you agree/disagree, why?
How would you explain to a non-Christian friend who the Holy Spirit is? How do you connect the dots of your personal experiences with the work of the Holy Spirit? (AKA, do you have a story to tell about the Holy Spirit working in your life?)
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.
When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”
- The message begins with a description of the disappointing experience of going to a shopping mall. What are some of the disappointing experiences you have had over the last two years? How about recently?
- Brad states that it is easy for us to see the losses we have had as being like the "stone blocking the tomb entrance." In other words, they have gotten in the way of what we desire. He then challenges us to think differently about this - that the things we had and lost were actually the stones blocking us from life. Without them we now have a chance to live in Christ. What do you think about this? Were some of the things we had, like consumerism or the need to be free of fear actually keeping us from real faith?
- The young man in the tomb says, "Jesus has gone before you into Galilee." Do you see Jesus as going before us into this new world? Where is the "Galilee" you are called to go to so you can serve Jesus?
- The scripture ends with the women running away in fear. How will you respond to the new world that is being created by all the change of the last two years? How do you overcome your fear and embrace this new world?
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Catchphrase: "The Devil Made Me Do It"
Additional scriptures referenced in this message include: Luke 19:29-40 (Palm Sunday), Genesis 3 (the serpent), Isaiah 14:12 (Lucifer/Morning Star), Job 1-2 & Zechariah 3:1-2 (Ha-Satan, the accuser), 2 Corinthians 4:4 (the God of this age), Jame's 4:7 (resist the Devil) and the Book of Revelation.
Sources referenced in this message include: "Who Is Satan," Biblical Archaeology Society; "How the Serpent in the Garden Became Satan," Biblical Archaeology Society; "The Lucifer Myth," Bible Scholars.
- The message starts with a listing of some of the names of the Evil One - what are some names you can think of for this biblical character?
- Brad states that talking about the Evil One makes lots of people uncomfortable. Does discussing this make you uncomfortable? If so, why?
- In the Hebrew Scriptures there is barely any mention on the devil and when it is mentioned its either: a later interpretation added to the passage as with the serpent in the garden, a mistranslation as with Lucifer or a misunderstanding of a character who is actually one of God's heavenly beings as with Satan. What do you make of this? Have we over-emphasized the importance and role of the Evil One in human affairs? What is the danger of doing this?
- Brad states that our images and understanding of the Evil One in the Christian Scriptures are a result of the merging of Greco-Roman culture with our Hebrew origins. Why do you think its important to know this? For instances, how does the conflating of the mythological god Pan with the Evil One impact your understanding of the Evil One?
- When Jesus is tempted by the devil, Brad notes that the devil plays on our human frailties (weaknesses, lust for power and hubris). This means being tempted is a universal human experience. Do you struggle with temptation? Brad emphasizes that the important point to remember isn't whether there is a supernatural tempter or not, but that we all run the risk of falling prey to temptation. What are your thoughts on this?
- Brad says that this series, "Catchphrase Christianity," has been about moving past the catchphrases which he calls "layers of faithless religiosity," and becoming ones who make "the intentional choice to be responsible for our faith lives." What do you think about this? Why is reducing our faith to simple catchphrases so dangerous?
Scripture: Jude 1:17-25 (New Revised Standard Version)
But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Catchphrase: "Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin"
- LuAnne begins with a story about
learning to bowl as a metaphor for living the Christian life. What other sports
or hobbies offer good metaphors for living as Christ followers?
- LuAnne suggests that when we hear “love
the sinner,” Christ followers should immediately translate it to “love all people,”
or “love one another.” How do you feel about this concept of remembering that
we are all sinners equally in need of grace?
- LuAnne recounts the story of the woman
at the well from John 4. Read the whole chapter if you have time. LuAnne says Jesus
knew who he was and leaned into relationship with the Samaritan woman at the
well, leading her to a curiosity about him, and eventually to her telling
everyone she knew about Jesus. What new perspectives and surprising
relationships could be gained by “leaning in” to a relationship with those who seem different
from you? Share any experiences you've had with this.
- On UMC.org
in the What We Believe section, we read about ways to know who and whose we are,
including acts of worship, devotion, justice, and compassion. “Acts of worship
include things like going to church and receiving the sacrament of communion.
Acts of devotion are those private times of worship that include activities
like private prayer and Bible study. We know these things draw us closer to
Christ, but we don’t stop there. Also important are acts of compassion like
reaching out to our neighbor in need and telling a friend about God’s love for
them. Acts of justice like working to eliminate racism and advocating for the
poor and marginalized are also means of grace.” (https://www.umc.org/en/content/graces-power-over-sin-sanctifying-grace) In which of the four areas are
you the strongest? In which area do you need improvement in order to know
better who you are in Christ?
- Using a focus on God’s grace and what LuAnne
calls the “boundaries of love,” which are the commandments to love God with our
whole being and our neighbors as ourselves, how can we begin to counter the
negativity that so many people associate with Christians, including damage done
by the catchphrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”? Have you tried this, and if
so, have you found any success? Do you have an idea of a setting in which you
could try this way of being?
Up spoke Job to YHWH and he said: I have known you are able to do all; that you cannot be blocked from any scheme.
"Who is this hiding counsel without knowledge?" Truly I've spoken without comprehending - wonders beyond me that I do not know.
"Hear now and I will speak! I will ask you, and you help me know!"
That is why I am fed up; I take pity on "dust and ashes!"
It happens, after YHWH spoke these words to Job, that YHWH said to Eliphaz the Teimanite: "I am angry at your and your two companions, for you did not speak about me in honesty as did my servant Job..."
Catchphrase: There's a Reason for Everything
- Last week Tania highlighted the problem of suffering. Brad says this leads to a profound theologic question: Does God have a plan? Do you think God has a plan? If so, any idea what it is?
- If God has plan and there is a reason for everything, how do explain the suffering and cruelty in the world?
- The opposite of there being a plan is that there is no plan. To use Brad's language we are just dust motes in the infinite vastness of space that flicker for a moment and are gone. How do you feel about this? Can you be satisfied with this kind of existential answer?
- Greenstein in giving a new translation of Job (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VYTSR2P/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1), describes the character of Job as being "fed up" with God. Do you think Job was fed up with God or was he fed up with the way his friends (and by extension much biblical interpretation both then and today) portrays God (i.e as having a reason for everything that happens)?
- Brad's description of a third option is that we are God's plan, and that the future isn't written but is waiting to be created as we live in relationship with one another and with God. What're your thoughts on this?
- Brad says the benefits of seeing the world this way include the following. What we do mattress since it shapes the future, and we are not alone, rather God is with us on the journey creating this future. Can you think of other benefits of seeing humanity as God's plan with a wide open future?
- Tania says, “Some things said about God in the great and vast family of people who call themselves Christ-followers are contrary to the DNA of the God we know, worship, and love in the Wesleyan tradition.” What have you heard floating around this community that you believe is contrary to the DNA of God?
- We hear, “The UMC informed by John Wesley comes to this conclusion, we do not understand why there is suffering in the world, but we do know that God does not cause or send suffering.” What is your personal understanding of this statement? If you would like to to read the article referenced go here: “How do we understand suffering from disaster?
- Two books that are helpful in understanding suffering through the lens of Christianity are: Everything Happen For A Reason And Other Lies I have Loved by Kate Bowler and Half Truths by Adam Hamilton.
- Tania says, “Our task, as followers of Christ in the Wesleyan way, is to know our distinct calling and what to do in the face of suffering. We do so by being informed by the example of Christ. We read the stories of Christ among us over and over again so that when asked about issues in our context and our culture, we are prepared to see through the lens of Christ as we grapple with decisions around great suffering in the world and in our midst. She later mention the story of Jesus healing the blind man. Which one of Jesus’s story is your favorite and informs how you understand suffering the in the world?
- We hear Tania rework the words of Brene Brown and say, “This lesson, church, is what we do with suffering as followers of Christ in the Wesleyan way. We don’t look away. We don’t look down. We don’t pretend not to see the pain. We don’t put some trite harmful phrase on someone’s suffering. Instead, informed by the love of Christ, we look people in the eye, even when their pain is overwhelming, And when we are in pain, informed by the love of Christ, we seek those who also can look us in the eye.”
- Informed by your faith, what will you say and not say when confronted with another’s suffering?
Scripture: Matthew 25:31-40 (MSG)
“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’"
- Where are some of the places where you have seen people acting altruistically (placing the needs of others ahead of their own)?
- One of our societies' more pervasive beliefs is that persons can overcome challenges (like poverty) through will power and hard work, (so called, "bootstrapping"). Do your believe this is so? Do you think this is the norm or the exception?
- Brad says that "it's very expensive to be poor in the United States." What are your thoughts on this? What are some steps our society can take to reduce cost burdens on the economically marginalized?
- Brad says the lesson from the scripture listed above is that God's model is not, "God helps those who help themselves," rather it is our responsibility as Christ-followers to do this work. Do you feel this is your responsibility as a Christ-follower? What steps are you wanting to take to do this work?
- Brad notes that this story by Jesus is couched in the language of "end times," and that it implies judgment is measured by how we serve our neighbors in this life. What are your feelings about this?
Scripture: Genesis 18:20-33 (MSG)
God continued, “The cries of the victims in Sodom and Gomorrah are deafening; the sin of those cities is immense. I’m going down to see for myself, see if what they’re doing is as bad as it sounds. Then I’ll know.”
The men set out for Sodom, but Abraham stood in God’s path, blocking his way.
Abraham confronted him, “Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad? What if there are fifty decent people left in the city; will you lump the good with the bad and get rid of the lot? Wouldn’t you spare the city for the sake of those fifty innocents? I can’t believe you’d do that, kill off the good and the bad alike as if there were no difference between them. Doesn’t the Judge of all the Earth judge with justice?”
God said, “If I find fifty decent people in the city of Sodom, I’ll spare the place just for them.”
Abraham came back, “Do I, a mere mortal made from a handful of dirt, dare open my mouth again to my Master? What if the fifty fall short by five—would you destroy the city because of those missing five?”
He said, “I won’t destroy it if there are forty-five.”
Abraham spoke up again, “What if you only find forty?”
“Neither will I destroy it if for forty.”
He said, “Master, don’t be irritated with me, but what if only thirty are found?”
“No, I won’t do it if I find thirty.”
He pushed on, “I know I’m trying your patience, Master, but how about for twenty?”
“I won’t destroy it for twenty.”
He wouldn’t quit, “Don’t get angry, Master—this is the last time. What if you only come up with ten?”
“For the sake of only ten, I won’t destroy the city.”
When God finished talking with Abraham, he left. And Abraham went home.
Today's catchphrase: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."
- This week's scripture shows Abraham bargaining with God. Have you ever bargained with God? (Notice that Abraham's bargaining is not considered "bad").
- Discussing Sodom and Gomorrah, Brad points out that the issue is not sexual orientation, but instead, inhospitable actions and violence, per this statement from Jesus (Luke 10:11-12). What are your thoughts on this? How does this impact your understanding of morality?
- Brad indicates that the Bible is where we hear what God has to say. Are there other places/activities where we can hear what God has to say to us?
- Brad highlight's places in the scripture where Jesus revises past biblical statements ( Matthew 5:38-42) and where Paul acknowledges he doesn't have all the answers (1 Corinthians 13:11-12). What are your thoughts on this? Brad says the common theme isn't the "rules" from God, but rather that God wants a dynamic relationship with you who are God's creation. How do you feel about this?
- Brad suggests four key ways to read scripture. read it hungrily, critically, in community, and prayerfully connected to God. Do you read the Bible? Would you find using these steps helpful in leading you to read scripture? What action do you need to take; what support do you need to become a regular scripture reader?